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How Do We Engage Muslims?

In the final part of a 4-part Q&A on his new book, Answering Jihad, Nabeel Qureshi addresses some of the most fundamental issues of the global concerns concerning Islam: Do Muslims want to take over the West? Should Syrian Muslims be admitted to the U.S.? Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? And perhaps the most important questions for Christians, How do we engage Muslims so they can know the triune God?

Do you believe that Muslims want to take over the West with sharia?

I would be quick to answer, “No, but…”. “No,” because the question implies a conspiracy among the average Muslim immigrant, as if all Muslims were part of a ploy to take over the West. That is untrue and ludicrous. In my experience, Muslims immigrants are simply trying to live life as best as they know how, as are all of us. For the vast majority, imposing sharia does not even enter their minds. “But…,” because many Muslims do entertain romantic notions of sharia and Islamic dominance. The Golden Age of Islam appeals to many hearts, and in the minds of most Muslims it is nebulously connected to sharia. Yet as Muslims in Egypt loudly declared through the swift ousting of their elected Muslim Brotherhood president, the average Muslim might not know what sharia really looks like.

How do you think we should handle the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees wanting to find solace in our country?

Muslims are coming to the West, and they are bringing their culture and values with them. My encouragement to those who fear Muslim immigration is that we should engage immigrants with love and friendship, sharing our views and our lives with one another. Part of the reason why Muslims immigrants in the West can become radicalized, as with Sayyid Qutb and more recently Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is that Westerners do not help them to understand our culture and do not provide them with appealing ways of navigating it. Segregating ourselves from those immigrants with whom we disagree only encourages further disagreements and misunderstandings. Instead of fearing Muslim immigrants, we should embrace them and be the element of love and change we wish to see. I suggest friendship rather than fear as a better way forward.

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

The question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God is complex, so we should be gracious to those who disagree. The fact is, one can both love Muslims and insist that the God they worship is not the same as the Christian God. Christians worship a Triune God: a Father who loves unconditionally, an incarnate Son who is willing to die for us so that we may be forgiven, and an immanent Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is not who the Muslim God is, and it is not what the Muslim God does. Truly, the Muslim doctrine of God’s oneness and unity, Tawhid, is antithetical to the Trinity, fundamentally incompatible and only similar superficially and semantically. Islam explicitly and emphatically rejects the Christian God, setting up its own rival doctrine, Tawhid. For these reasons, Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.

What is the relationship between Islamic and Christian views of Jesus, specifically in terms of violence?

Jesus is surprisingly prominent in Islamic eschatology. In common Muslim views of the end-times, he personally wages war on behalf of Muslims, breaking all the crosses and killing all the swine. In this war Muslims will kill Jews and defeat them, and Jesus will destroy the anti-Christ for their sake. By contrast, in Christianity, Jesus shows Christians how to answer persecution with love. Although this suggestion might seem impossible to some and ridiculous to others, Jesus’s teachings were always radical, and they are only possible to follow if the gospel message is true. If we will live eternally with God in bliss, then we can lay down this life to love even our enemies. In the face of jihad, the Christian Jesus teaches his followers to respond with love.

What do you think is the best way we should answer jihad?

By being proactive, not reactive. It means living life with people who might be different from us. It means stepping out of our comfort zone and loving people unconditionally, perhaps even loving our enemies. Fear will not work, as it will only alienate those we might hope to impact. Our fear is also positive reinforcement for terrorist activities, as creating fear is a goal of terrorism. Fighting won’t work either, but will further embolden the radical and convict them that their cause is just. Plus, terrorist groups like ISIS want us to fight back. Their hope is that they can sufficiently anger the world so that we will fight them on the field of Dabiq, ushering in the end of the world, as Muhammad’s tradition foretells. Fear and fighting both fuel the radical fires. We need something that breaks the cycle, and I think that can only be love. Not love as wistfully envisioned by teenagers and songwriters, but love as envisioned by Jesus, a decision to put the needs and concerns of others above our own, even at the cost of our own.

My suggestion is that we engage Muslims proactively with love and friendship while simultaneously acknowledging the truth about Islam. This is not the final step in answering jihad, but it is the correct first step, and it offers a better way forward.

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